Four one-paragraph novel beginnings (from photos taken this week)
One one-page novel beginning (from photos taken this week)
Optional but encouraged: Choose one short piece of writing to present at tomorrow night’s reading
And seventeen people call this a vacation.
P.S. I suspect this mammoth task has been assigned so we won’t have time to revise and polish. Beginnings are supposed to be bad. We have permission to write badly. But no one wants to turn in bad writing. So the instructor resorts to subterfuge.
I’m off to a writing conference where Internet access will be iffy at best.
We’re about to load the car. David is getting the cat hair off my suitcase so people will not think I’m a cat lady. First, however, he will have to get Ernest off.
I’m supposed to take my very favorite novel, not the one I talk about to impress people. I don’t know what my very favorite novel is. I have several. It probably doesn’t matter too much anyway. I have a feeling everyone in the class will show up with a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.
There’s a long drive ahead, so I must hit the road.
I did not wail, Alas!, and fall to the floor in a faint. I said, Okay, I’ll send the story out again.
A fair and balanced response.
#2 was a little more difficult. I held out until the last day, weighing my options: Retreat or new chair, retreat or new chair…
Friend Emmie helped me with the decision. She said, “Listen, the chair will fall apart whether you go or not. And when it does (after you’ve gone to the retreat) you will be amused at the incident and will write a great bit on your blog which will make all the folks that read it very happy.”
I value Emmie’s advice. She knows what I want to do, and she always tells me to do it. Her justification misses the point, and I don’t know how I’ll blog, or make anyone happy, after the chair collapses and I’m buried in the rubble. But I’ll think about that tomorrow.
#3 proved more difficult. Because of street maintenance scheduled for today, David parked my car on a designated side street. I forgot to ask which side street. Wanting to use the car, I called David at work and asked where he had left it. He told me. I tramped down the street and around the corner.
The car wasn’t there, but the street had been plowed up. We hadn’t been told that street would be plowed up. We had been told to park there.
I asked two young men manning some kind of truck where they thought the car might be.
They said they were just subcontractors and didn’t know anything, but that it hadn’t been impounded, just towed somewhere else so they could plow up the street, and they were sorry. I said I understood and it was okay.
One of them gave me John’s phone number. The number bore a Fort Worth area code.
I called John and got his voice mail. I left a message. Then I tramped back to my air conditioning.
Did I mention the temperature was approaching triple digits?
John called me. He said he was just TXDOT and he didn’t know where the car was and he was sorry.
I said I understood and it was okay.
He said it was probably on Summersby.
I said, No, that’s the street we were told not to park on.
He said he was sorry but he didn’t know anything and it was definitely on Summersby.
I said Summersby is only two blocks long, and I had stood on the sidewalk and looked both ways, and the car really, really wasn’t on Summersby.
He said what kind of car was it.
I said I didn’t know, because I wasn’t sure which one my husband had taken this morning.
He said there was a blue car down on Silverdale.
I said that was my car, and thank you so much.
He said he was so sorry but he was just TXDOT.
I said I understood and it was okay.
I hung up.
As soon as I did, David called to say he had found the car on Silverdale and was driving it home.
Technically, I suppose, I didn’t really find the car. David did. But I did extensive research that produced the desired result. Except by then I couldn’t have cared less.
I had no intention of hiking down to Silverdale until Hell froze over.
To see how other ROW80 writers are doing, click here.
A friend asked recently, “Why do you blog? It’s for the numbers, right?”
Numbers are nice. I won’t pretend I don’t look at them. Several times a day, in fact. Compulsively. As one who for a long time was her own audience, I’m delighted by every little hit.
Better than numbers, however, are what the numbers represent: people who take the time and make the effort to visit, read, subscribe, like, and comment. People I’ve gotten to know and like through reading their blogs. People who boost my morale and my ego.
Possibly more of the latter than is good for me, but that’s no reason to stop.
Anyway, I’ve wanted for a long time to say thanks, and now I’m saying it: Thanks.
A recent post concerned my being behind in reading, writing, and a number of other activities. It occurs to me, not for the first time, that sharing my troubles, especially those I myself generate, might not be wise.
As I said, people read these posts. They might get the wrong idea.
So, once more, I shall explain: Like Mr. Mark Twain, I tell the truth—mainly.
In other words, it’s never as quite bad as I say it is. Except when I lock the keys in the car.
I periodically vow to stop yowling about my little quirks, but doing so would raise another problem: I wouldn’t have much to write about.
Posts would go something like this:
The new refrigerator didn’t come again today, so we are still surviving on microwaved frozen entrees (the freezer works), P. Terry burgers, Wendy’s salads, and Chinese take-out.
[At one time, I could have made that into lively, amusing fiction. But I’ve lost all enthusiasm for the topic. David kindly left work and brought me a McDonald’s burger for lunch today. I think that’s about the point at which enthusiasm began to leak.]
On Saturday afternoon, our right front tire began to unravel at 60 mph in the middle lane of IH-35. It went flap-flap-flap, and we knew intuitively that the rubber had met the road and intended to take up residence there. Fortunately for all southbound traffic, it didn’t abandon us completely. We exited the freeway, crept back home, and set out again in the other car. The ailing vehicle is spending the night at the tire store, being completely reshod.
There are the facts, no yowling, no self-recriminations, just the happenings of the past week. Not the stuff of which blogs are made.
One thing did happen today that I would love to post. The bare naked facts, lacking all embellishment, would raise laughter from stones. I’ve been all giggly ever since I hung up the phone. Or perhaps since I relayed the story to David. He didn’t laugh, but I saw the corner of his mouth turn up. That was just after I said, “You were right all along, and you may now say, ‘I told you so.'”
But as much as I want to share, I can’t. Won’t. I am a good, kind, generous, compassionate person of maximum integrity, and I cannot in good conscience send that story into cyberspace. No matter how much the main character deserves it.
What I can do is to tuck it away, let it age, and bring it out again as fiction.
I’ve spent all afternoon trying to figure out how to fit it into my current novel in progress.
But if that doesn’t work, stay tuned. All this laughter is shaking my integrity to its very core. Sooner or later, it’s bound to crack.
A business teacher of my acquaintance, when asked by a student what arrears meant, answered, “It means you’re behind.”
Not the definition her class expected.
But a good story for the teachers’ lounge, and a fitting introduction for this post.
For I am in arrears.
In reading blogs, in answering comments, in answering e-mails, in reading books, in preparing for tomorrow’s meeting of Just for the Hell of It Writers, and in submitting Wednesday’s A Round of Words in 80 Days report.
Last things first: the title of this post will have to suffice as my ROW80 report.
It will have to do for the rest of the post as well, or I shall also be in arrears with respect to sleep.
One specific item: This morning I shot off my mouth and announced to a Facebook group that I would submit a story for publication as soon as I’d proofed it five or six more times.
But after a good twelve hours, I still haven’t clicked Send.
I’m not afraid of rejection per se. I’m afraid of rejection because of some idiocy on my part: omitting the word count, formatting incorrectly, forgetting to do some tiny but important bit of business.
So the story sits in the draft folder, waiting for one more proof.
For the past two days, I’ve had an intense compulsion to read something by Henry James.
My first response was to lie down and hope it went away.
So I watched Wings of a Dove for the fourth time. That wasn’t enough.
Today I searched Netflix for more film adaptations of James’ work. Most are on DVD rather than streaming, so I watched The Bostonians for the second time.
My yen for James remains. What to do, what to do.
My objection to James isn’t that he, as Mrs. Henry Adams observed, “chewed more than he bit off,” but that I can’t always tell what he’s chewing.
James is subtle. I am not.
Solution: Read more James.
One possibility remains: Instead of wanting to read Henry James, perhaps I just want to read something containing compound-complex sentences.
Whose compound-complex sentences, I don’t know.
Not Edith Wharton’s. Not William Dean Howells’. Not E. M. Forster’s.
But I’m going to do my best to find out.
Because I have a feeling that after I finish with Henry, I’ll move on to his brother William. A Pluralistic Universe. An American lit. professor recommended it to me. After I’d read Varieties of Religious Experience. In 1972.
I’ve never gotten around to it.
What a shame if I were to open a book and accidentally engage a brain cell.
It’s no longer Sunday where I am, so my report for A Round of Words in 80 Days is now late.
On the other hand, it’s Sunday somewhere, so no sweat. I have plenty of time.
(Twenty years ago I wouldn’t have written no sweat in anything but a letter to my nearest and dearest. And I wouldn’t have turned in an assignment, even a non-essential assignment, late. But twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have worn shorts to the grocery store, either, no matter the temperature. Things change.)
First the report:
I wrote another short-short story, shot for 200 words including the title, and made it. The plot already existed, part in a file and part in my head; finished, the story would have comprised several thousand words.
I’d intended to submit it last January to a contest for an online magazine. Unable to finish by the deadline, I set it aside and didn’t pick it up again. It was one of those things I could have worked on forever and never completed.
So, in search of a plot for a 200-word piece, I pulled up that one and stripped it to its bare bones.
The result was like an X-ray: for the first time, I saw the basic structure, what held the story together and kept it upright. Or what, in its previous semi-incarnation, didn’t hold it together.
In its earlier state, it meandered all over the place. Like what would happen if you removed the skeleton from a body: it takes more than a heap of muscle to get from here to there.
A word in my defense: I believe in over-writing. I start with some characters, a setting, and a couple of lines, and see what happens. I do not–cannot–know exactly what happens before it happens.
For me, writing is thinking.
But in this case, I had thought several thousand words. With that, I could start paring down.
Then, after letting the 200-word version sit for a day or two, I began to expand, a few words at a time. It’s now 250 words and, I think, fairly decent. When I finish here, I’ll e-mail it to my critique group for some less biased opinions.
Constructing the short-short was an exercise. I enjoy reducing word count, tightening the pieces I write. If I had time, I would cut this post. I may come back and tamper with it next week or next year.
Writing can be drudgery, but cutting is always reward.
In stripping away unnecessary words, however, I discovered an unexpected benefit: seeing the plot clearly will make it easier to write the story I’d originally intended.
If I ever write it. I’m so enamored with the undernourished version that I might leave it alone.
Another thing: I selected the photograph above because 1) it was one of the shooting places for the 1956 version of Around the World in 80 Days, and 2) it’s in the public domain.
But as I typed away about bare bones and skeletons, I remembered Emily Dickinson’s poem about the train:
I like to see it lap the miles,
And lick the valleys up,
And stop to feed itself at tanks;
And then, prodigious, step
Around a pile of mountains,
And, supercilious, peer
In shanties by the sides of roads;
And then a quarry pare
To fit its ribs, and crawl between,
Complaining all the while
In horrid, hooting stanza;
Then chase itself down hill
And neigh like Boanerges;
Then, punctual as a star,
Stop–docile and omnipotent–
At its own stable door.
I read the poem to a class of sophomores when I was student-teaching, about a million years ago. We discussed Dickinson’s use of figurative language. The students were a savvy bunch and they had good answers and asked good questions.
One boy, for example, said, “What does it mean ‘To fit its ribs?’ What are its ribs?”
For me, that was one question too many. I’d never considered the ribs. I had no idea what the ribs were.
I stood before the class, mouth agape, understanding for the first time the true meaning of tabula rasa.
But before I could get a word out, another student said, “It’s the track.” Except the way he said it, it sounded more like, “It’s the track, dummy, can’t you read?”
I am indebted to those two boys: the answerer, for keeping me from looking like a dummy; and the questioner, for being a kindred spirit.
I addressed the “dummy” tone so the kindred spirit didn’t feel like a dummy. If I’d been teaching more than a week, I’d have said, “I don’t know. Anyone have an idea?” and delighted the entire class.
Kids like teachers who don’t know things.
A few years later, when I was “real,” a student wrote that I was the first of her teachers who had ever admitted being wrong. I suspect that was because I was the first of her teachers who was wrong. But however it worked, she thought the admission was pretty cool.
Having, like my unfinished story, meandered, I shall draw this bit of self-indulgence to a close.
Back to the report: Since Sunday, I’ve worked on the two short-shorts and finished editing the SinC Heart of Texas newsletter. And written this post. And tried to figure out Twitter.
When it ran, in the early ’60s, TV sets hadn’t yet reached peak efficiency. Things went wrong: static, snow, vertical hold not holding, antenna blown cattywampus by a strong breeze.
Periodically someone would have to jump up and turn knobs on the front or jiggle wires in the back. The worst was the dreaded horizontal hold. When that got loose, the repairman was a phone call away. (Back then we didn’t just chuck electronic equipment.)
That was during the Cold War and the Space Race. Satellites and flying saucers and who-knew-what-else were up there. When the picture suddenly blurred and the order sounded—”Do not attempt to adjust your set”—viewers knew an alien force was in control. It stayed in control for the next sixty minutes, minus time out for commercials and station identification.
(During commercials, Earth reasserted control. But viewers helped continue the illusion by leaving the room or talking amongst themselves.)
David gave me a set of Outer Limits DVDs for our anniversary. (Please do not sneer at his choice. I gave him a towel shelf. Romance is not measured in bonbons and champagne. Anyway, we’d gone through Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Twilight Zone and were ready to move on.)
To date, we’ve watched four episodes.
First there was the story of the radio broadcaster who makes contact with an alien civilization. “I’m not supposed to be doing this,” says the human. “Neither am I,” says the alien. “Because your race is dangerous.”
Yeah, I thought, we are.
Then there was the one about the scientist who, for the sake of greed and glory, creates a microbe that destroys all but a remnant of the human race and turns survivors into freaks.
Yeah, I thought. Biological warfare. Drug-resistant bacteria.
Then there was the one about Orbit, a top-secret program designed to spy, eventually, on everyone on earth. The military supports research and development until the general who okayed the program becomes frightened of it.
Yeah, I thought. Drones, CC-TV, web-cams, little cameras in ladies’ dressing rooms.
The only part that seemed unreal about that show was the general saying he was frightened. I don’t know of any generals who’ve complained about drones.
To be candid, Outer Limits plays today like a documentary with bad lighting. What began as movie night has become depressing.
Tonight’s episode, however, afforded hope. Harry Guardino’s brain takes over Gary Merrill’s body and sets out to destroy everyone at a polar scientific installation. Sally Kellerman recognizes that Merrill’s brain is in Guardino’s body and helps Merrill subdue Guardino, and it’s all due to the power of love.
A vision of an Abominable Snowman makes a couple of appearances. I didn’t catch its significance, but David said it represented Guardino’s guilt for not going into a crevasse to save a fellow soldier.
Now is the time to confess that I wasn’t paying attention during the crevasse scene. I was writing this post.
And therein lies a solution: when fifty-year-old sci-fi makes me feel like Winston Smith, I’ll grab the laptop and type myself into my own literary reality.
P. S. Now is the time to confess that the Merrill-Guardino-Kellerman show wasn’t nearly so good as the others. Sappy and insignificant. Like 1984 would have been without all the…Never mind.
ROW80: Doing okay. Sent two short-short stories to my beta reader. Started revising first part of novel draft. To see how other ROW80 participants are getting along, click here.
Image of satellite by NSSDC, NASA[see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons. This file is in the public domain because it was created by NASA. NASA copyright policy states that “NASA material is not protected by copyright unless noted“.
Another round of ROW80 begins today, and I’ve signed on. I would like to say I’m doing it because I was so successful the first time, but that would be overstatement bordering on a lie. In fact, it would be a lie. I became so tired of reporting that I couldn’t even remember my goals that I stopped reporting and just wrote whatever came to mind.
(Oh, joy. The Internet is down again and I must reboot the router. It’s okay. I get a lot of exercise walking across the room and toggling a little switch.)
Back to ROW80.
One of my CPs came across the following post on the blog Letters of Note. It’s a copy of a letter in which Pixar animator Austin Madison tells aspiring artists how to handle times of “creative drought.”
“In a word,” he writes, “PERSIST.”
So I dive into ROW80 once more because I’m persisting.
And because I want to. I discovered some interesting/entertaining/informative blogs during the first round, and I hope to discover more.
It’s also good to write in the company of others. Not to be accountable to them, but to share their energy. We’re all working toward the same thing.
Part of the ROW80 contract is a statement of goals. I’ll keep it simple.
During the next 80 days, I will spend a portion of every day WRITING. Not answering e-mails, not composing blog posts, not commenting on blogs. Not playing Bejeweled (I’m getting pretty good at it). I will WRITE (which includes revising, editing, organizing) something intended for submission, and not for self-publication. Five hundred words a day is a nice round number, and something to shoot for.
During the next 80 days, I will submit chapters to my critique groups. The other members haven’t threatened to kick me out if I don’t get back to writing, but they are beginning to look at me with a different expression. Sort of like the Aggies look at Reveille. As if they’re going to start giving me little head pats and perhaps a dog biscuit if sit quietly while they’re discussing their manuscripts.
My third goal is to eschew perfectionism, but I’ve been eschewing so competently that I don’t need to put it in writing.
I hope everyone reading this post will click over to Austin Madison’s letter. His ideas aren’t new, but they’re often forgotten. Sometimes we need to read them in new words, from new people, and we need to read them again and again.
Image of Reveille by Patrick Boyd (cropped from ) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons